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Friday, March 13, 2015

Visual Effects and Overtime

Visual Effects and Overtime

The visual effects industry and workers suffer from a number problems. Two of those are massive overtime and unpaid overtime.

A full-time job in most industries is 40 hours a week. That provides some semblance of balance between work and life and allows 2 free days (typically the weekend) to rest and socialize.

For the visual effects worker a starting week is 50 to 60 hours and can exceed over hundred hours a week during times of intense production. And putting in an over 24 hour workday is not out of the question. 60 hours a week is another 50% more than a normal work week. Many countries and Fair Labor guidelines mandate a maximum work week typically 48-60 hours, which is where many in visual effects start their basic week at.

Day breakdown for a 12hr day (60hr work week)
24 hrs in a day
- 8hr sleep (6-8hrs required)
= 16 hrs

- 12hr work day
= 4hrs

- 1hr lunch (1/2 min)
= 3hrs

- 1hr travel time (1/2 - 1hr each way for most people)
= 2 hrs

In that remaining 2 hours: shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, eat dinner, see spouse, see children, take care of paperwork and bills, watch TV, relax, etc.

Now consider when it's more than 12 hrs in a day.
When it's 14-18 hrs in a day. When they set up cots near the workstations and people sleep 3-4 hrs.

Now consider not just 5 days a week but 6 or 7 days a week, possibly for weeks or even months at a time. 90 days w/o a day off is not unheard of.


A few highlights:
In New Zealand 38% of the workers had worked 100hrs a week during their heavy crunch time.

Anyone putting in 100hrs in a week has exceeded the limit in most countries by a full weeks worth of labor (40hrs) on top of the maximum (48 or 60hrs.) 

In New Zealand 13% of the workers put in long weeks for over 10 weeks. 19% put in 8 weeks of heavy overtime. 10 weeks is 2-1/2 months or likely 70+ days non-stop without a day off.

Globally 18% of visual effects workers had put in at least one 24+ hr day in the last 2 years. Almost 1 out of every 5 visual effects workers had not stopped to sleep during a 24 hour period. In one day these people put in over 1/2 of what most people take 5 days to do.

Over 90% of visual effects workers in the UK, France, India and other locations were not paid for all hours worked.

Minimizing overtime and being paid overtime were the top two global concerns from visual effects professionals.

Yet minimizing overtime was almost last in terms of how well companies achieved that.

And it is strange that developing countries with Fair Labor and EEIC have much better overtime protection than the US, NZ or UK.


Those of us in visual effects do it because we love it. Let's be honest though, we're not dealing with an accident or natural disaster where time is of the essence. We work in the entertainment business- television, films and video games, where the deadlines, schedules and resources are determined and controlled by people in management positions. This requirement for overtime is entirely man made and could just as easily be avoided by these same people.

(** I strongly urge those reading this to try to check out the links at the end of this post. See the video, see what world overtime regulations are, see the health issues and productive loss issues are)

Film production

Since the beginning of film many scenes are shot outdoors or rely on sunshine to shoot. As such productions schedule to take as much advantage of the light as possible and that typically means a 12 hour day. Usually 7 AM a.m. to 7 PM as a starting point for a day shoot, and 7 PM p.m. to 7 AM for a night shoot (have to finish shooting night scenes before it gets too light). In addition some crew members and actors may have to arrive before production time to prepare and some of the crew may need to stay later to wrap up after production time. So these can turn into very long days.
(There was a study done by a production manger that showed that shooting 12hr days wasn't the most efficient )

Differences of Visual effects and live action
While live action crew work long days as well there are a few key differences.
Live action film shoots are typically 3 months or less. After that the crew usually has some type of break between projects.
Visual effects can last several months to a year. There may be no break between projects if the company is busy.

Most live action productions are 5 days a week, some are 6 day weeks and it is very rare for 7 day shooting schedule, especially for any length of time.
6 and 7 day work weeks for visual effects are not unusual and can last months.

Visual effects work is done indoors (with the exception of live action plate photography). So rather than overtime being a requirement due to hours of sunshine or special location costs, overtime in visual effects is simply a decision made by management, not by any inherit need.

In live action everyone is working on the same scene at the same time and in concert under the director for that one task.

In visual effects multiple shots are being worked on at a time, with each being started and completed independently. While there may be a large crew working in visual effects, smaller teams are assembled to work on specific shots.

Live action crews and actors are covered by guilds (unions) so not only are all labor laws followed, the overtime rates are clearly spelled and paid.

Visual effects are the only large group of workers on a film who are not covered by guilds these days so visual effects company may or may not follow labor laws and workers may or may not be paid overtime rate.

Pre-digital Visual effects
Visual effects departments at the studios and independent optical/animation companies frequently worked more typical work weeks since were not dependent on making the most of the sun light.

Equipment
Visual effects equipment in the pre-digital days was made up of animation stands, optical printers and motion control systems. Because these were all custom built they would take months to deliver and required specialized rooms large enough and possibly with special power or filtering. When more work was required than could be done in a standard day it was typical to have a another shift or two on the device. I spent some time working nights running an animation stand and an optical printer.

Lab
In the pre-digital days you were also dependent on the film lab to process your film. Labs would process film during the night so anyone shooting film, live action and visual effects, would have to run the film to the lab by a certain time to be developed and printed. That was important since there was no way to check the results until you saw it projected in dailies the next morning.

That meant both live action and visual effects had to wrap for the day by a given time if they wished to see dailies. Typically a 7pm lab run. There were late lab runs if necessary, while the lab was still processing, but that was risky unless scheduled.

If you were required to see something shot the same day or on the weekend that was a daylight run. It had to be scheduled with the lab and could be very expensive.

So the requirement for daylight (or no daylight) and the lab runs impacted the shooting days and schedule for live action.

Digital days

With the advent of digital imaging film processing went away for most productions. This happened first with visual effects. Now it became possible to check the results of the shot on a monitor in real time. In visual effects it meant it was possible to do more interactive adjustments which provided a quicker turn around time.

More intense rendering required using many computer processors (a render farm) running at night. So the CG supervisor, visual effects supervisor and the visual effects producer would review all potential work at the end of that day that would need to be rendered overnight and determine what priorities they were to be given. In this way digital processing overnight became similar to the film lab. Visual effects workers needed to get their work in at the end of the day to make sure it was rendered for the next morning. With larger and larger render farms the distinction of overnight rendering became grayer.

For a time this added benefit of instant feedback from digital allowed the industry a chance to minimize the amount of overtime required.

Pros
One of the advantages of overtime it is allows the workers to potentially receive more money but that's only if they are in fact paid overtime which doesn't always happen. Also this increased pay is in lieu of little free time and lower life quality during that time. Unfortunately additional pay can be a driving factor for some workers focused only on the short term. These are the people who jump at the chance of working a lot of overtime regardless of the actual need.

Management likes overtime because it allows them to ramp up production with no extra effort and with no thought about deficiencies.

Cons
The downsides of massive overtime are many.

More and more studies are showing both the health and mental problems associated with massive overtime. (*Reference to some links at end of post. Plenty more to be found on Google)

Overtime usually results in sleep deprivation. Lack of sleep studies have shown major reduction in health and mental abilities. Lack of sleep has resulted in at least one death in live action when a camera assistant was killed when he fell asleep on the way home after another 18 hour day. This lead to the making of a film titled "Who Needs Sleep' and the push in live-action for a 12 hour turn around and a 12 hour time limit for a day. (still being pushed for)

Productivity in workers actually drops as the number of hours increase. Workers were much more likely to make simple mistakes that would have to be redone. Yet many poor managers continue to think that 50% increase in hours worked equals 50% increase in productivity.

Creativity and problem solving skills drop as the number of hours rise.

Overtime reduces the amount of free time for the workers. For a worker who single this may mean make it is difficult to date or have a social life. For those who are married it means less time to spend with a spouse. Those with children are likely to miss out on many activities of their children and more importantly miss them growing up. Your child is only 4 years old once. It may mean missing or canceling activities such as going to concerts sporting events, doing hobbies, etc. This is especially true since workers may only be given notice that overtime is required at the last minute. (i.e. late Friday told you're to work the weekend)

Overtime means it's very difficult to achieve a balanced life. A life with a combination of both work and free time to socialize and to experience the world as you would like.

Overtime is over all a decrease quality of life

Loss of good workers
Burnout. Workers who work too much and put in grueling hours will experience burnout. Some visual effects companies go through people as if they were disposable and as a result frequently lose some of their best people.

I have a friend in visual effects who has been asked repeatedly to move up the ranks to supervise his area for projects, which he would be good at. But he has chosen not to so he could work more normal days and spend time with his family. Because the higher up you go at many companies the more overtime you may end being asked to do. So the company loses out of better supervisors and leads simply because they can't properly control overtime.

And if you are one of the many visual effects workers not covered by overtime pay it actually means a reduction of value and pay. Someone getting paid 'well' as a flat rate may discover that many of those they supervise or co-workers are in fact making much more simply because they are being correctly paid overtime rates.

Overtime pay in legal requirements
Most developed countries have special overtime rules and regulations as well as requiring's specialized premium rates for overtime work.

In California the work done after eight hours but less than 12 hours is billed at 1.5 Times. Anytime after 12 hours in a day is billed at 2 times Standard rate. Sixth days are paid at 1.5 rate. Seventh day is paid at 2 times. (approx)

Even the FLA and EEIC definition is to define a premium rate for overtime.
(*see reference at end)

Premium overtime pay exists for two main reasons

The first is to properly and thoroughly pay employees for giving up their premium free time to work longer hours.

The second and main reason for premium overtime pay is to create an incentive for companies to not overwork their workers. If there is no premium pay required for overtime work then managers at many companies would require all workers work overtime.

Avoiding overtime rates

Many companies try to avoid paying overtime rates with different tactics. In Canada they may try to classify worker as a technician to avoid paying overtime rates. In the US one of the methods is to classify a worker as an independent contractor. By classifying someone as a independent contractor the company also avoids paying taxes and other benefits to the worker and the worker receives much less legal protection from the government. Legally and technically a visual effects worker working for a visual effects company cannot be considered an independent contractor but that does not stop companies from trying to do so. 

The other method companies try to avoid paying overtime rates is to classify a worker as a salaried worker or as a manager. This is the case with visual effects supervisor's, CG supervisors, leads and visual effects producers. The theory being that the managers are the ones who decide if overtime is needed and if so how much. But the reality is visual effects supervisors and many of the others involved do not decide if overtime is required. That's typically decided by actual company management. Much as a director of photography has no control over how much overtime is done on the filming of a movie the visual effects supervisor is typically at the whim of management. Companies sometimes also give people a flat daily rate or other special arrangements specifically to avoid paying any overtime. As noted previously visual effects does not have a union unlike the rest of Hollywood so have no protection other than legal to be correctly classified and paid overtime.

UK visual effects

The UK has a work week restriction of 48 hours a week average during a 17 week period. But most visual effects companies in the UK required workers to sign a waiver to do away with their 48 hour protection. 

For being a developed country the UK lacks any substantial overtime laws.  
Just think if you were in a developing country you could be protected by Fair Labor Laws or the EEIC or other groups which require premium pay for overtime and a 60hr cap. 
(See references at end, including the Overtime Around The World. UK is the worst on the list )

'All adult workers are entitled to one day off a week. Days off can be averaged over a two-week period, meaning you are entitled to two days off a fortnight.'

Many working in visual effects beyond the hours are not paid any more money. Those working on the weekends may receive what's known as in lieu pay for those days. (Or Time Off In Lieu (TOIL))  That simply means that they make it a regular day off or paid their regular pay.  In many cases the visual effects companies actually reduce the contract end date for those workers and get them off their payroll sooner.

From the visual effects survey referenced earlier:
51% of UK visual effects workers had put in 80+ hours of work in a week during crunch times. 
93% of UK visual effects workers were not paid Overtime.
Only 7% in the UK visual effects were paid a premium rate for overtime.

Any company not paying an overtime premium rate, especially if there is not even regular per hours costs associated with overtime, will by default be working those people overtime. Whether it's a junior manager or the head executive who will have the bright idea that they can simply increase productivity by 50% by working people 50% more. And it's all free. Pure profit. It's just wasted labor if they don't use it. It's like someone going to a buffet and piling their plate full of food they not only couldn't eat but wouldn't eat if it weren't the fact it was 'free'.  And that manager will likely get a promotion.

No pay or regular pay for overtime is simply an incentive for a company to use as much overtime as possible and provides no incentive to hire the correct number of people or reduce the amount of overtime. Money is the only language most companies understand.

Visual effects workers are typically reasonably paid but if they are not paid premium rates for overtime then they may be in for a surprise by what they're actually being paid. A visual effects worker who's paid 100,000 a year may think they're being paid much more than someone who's making 50,000 a year. But if they are typically putting in 80 hours a week or more that's no different than having 2 Jobs. You're being paid the same or less then the typical worker at that point.

Overtime premium pay calculation
To determine what you're actually getting paid take the total number of hours worked in each day of the week: Take the first 8 hours as 8 hours. Take the number of hours between 8-12 hours and multiply by 1.5. Add those to the 8 hours. Take any hours after 12 hours and multiply by 2 and add to sum. Do the same for Monday through Friday. Take the hours on Saturday and multiple by 1.5 and add those. Take the hours on Sunday and multiple by 2. Now take what you were paid for that week and divide it by the number of hours calculated. That's the real hourly wage you're earning if you were paid correctly. How does that compare now? Keep in mind those in many other industries are getting that time beyond 8 hours a day and the weekends free to live life.

Why is there so much overtime in visual effects now?
The explosion of the amount of digital work in visual effects led
to a short term lack of qualified workers so it was necessary for a time to work longer hours since additional skilled workers were unavailable. That time is now long passed and visual effects workers are available.

Reasons for overtime in the visual effects industry:

1. Compressed post-production time from the studios. 
This impacts editors and others in post-production beyond just visual effects. Some executive are under the mistaken belief this shorter time reduces the overhead cost of the company. Because the studios take the money on loan (with interest payments required) they want to complete the project and get it to theaters or TV as quickly as possible. And while they may reduce shoot times, they usually do most of the compression in post because there's no one to argue to keep more time in post. Sometimes it's because studio executives drag their feet on giving a film the green-light even after the release date is locked.

Subsequently live action shooting may go over their schedule and the edit may be locked much later than scheduled. All of this snowballs.  Because visual effects is at the end of the pipeline with no added flexibility (fixed release date), any and all changes and additions have to be absorbed to take place in whatever time remains. The visual effects for a film may complete just a week or two before a film is released. And if the edit is delivered months later than scheduled then it falls on the shoulders of the visual effects crew to make up for all that lost time.

2. There is a huge disconnect between the visual effects crew and director/producer because they are not part of the same crew.
They are part of a third party company. So a request from the client is made and it's cost and time impact may be very buffered from those making the request. This is unlike live action where the 1st AD, line producer and producer are all keenly aware of the cost/time factors and help to guide the director. In post-production no such guidance exists and visual effects companies will frequently not bill for full overages due to limit of clients.

3. Poor resource and time scheduling by visual effects companies.   
Bidding the cost, time and crew for a visual effects project is very difficult. The work may require R&D for new types of shots, be very dependent on the what is shot in live action and the whims of the director/studio. To bid a time and labor intensive project where the work itself is controlled by someone else making iterative creative decisions with gray financial obligations is a fools errand.

Many visual effects companies are overly optimistic about the productivity of their crews and ignore any historical data that would provide a more realistic bid and schedule.

And it's worse than that as a number of visual effects companies knowingly underbid their actual cost of the project simply due to competition and the need to feed their machine. (Slowly going bankrupt is still a bad business decision) Yet the push then is to still try to make that bid work and not be as great of loss. That method of looking at bidding through rose colored glasses applies as well to the schedule and crew.

Because it's easy for management. When an issue comes up (added shots, changes, technical or creative bumps) rather than addressing the actual issue and devising a solution, it's frequently easier to solve the problem by throwing people at it for longer. And since the deadline can't change that means longer hours in a day.

4. Lack of in house workers
Work coming into a company can fluctuate so companies hire only as necessary. The problem is some companies are very reluctant to properly staff up positions to cover the contracted work. That means the workers will have to work longer hours to accomplish the required tasks.

In some cases a company may have a person or two filling a critical role that only they can do there. That puts the company in the position of having to work these types of people long hours and this type of lynch pin worker means the company is on very shaky ground if they were to become incapacitated or leave for any reason. The company would be better off getting correct coverage with enough people to fill that role.

One company I was with had a lack of people in a specific department so the output from that department was much less than it should have been and caused massive overtime by others since it skewed the entire schedule. Hundreds of people were waiting on this department to finish before they could do their work. When I spoke to the department manager, since this had been an on going problem for over a year and they were supposed to have made a large effort to hire more people 6 months earlier, I was informed they hadn't hired anybody since did they didn't find anyone 'great'. So instead of hiring the best people available at that time with the necessary skills and knowledge, who could have made the project work and who could have been mentored to be great, the manager simply choose to wait until someone great applied.

This lack of foresight and willingness to make timely decisions contributes much to the amount of overtime required.

Every company has slightly different procedures and pipelines so it will take any new worker a few days to get up to speed. In addition some companies have very complex pipelines. Other companies have proprietary software. Now while this software may provide added functionality not available in commercial software or provide special optimizations, management doesn't always allocate for it properly. This would include the cost of maintenance, updates and time for training of new people.

Hiring workers who have knowledge and skill with a popular application is fairly straightforward and quick. However hiring workers and training them to use a complex proprietary app requires hiring them further in advance, making the lag time of management an even larger problem.

One solution managers use to deal with schedule and crisis issues on a show is to simply 'borrow' workers from another project within the same company. Typically what happens in these situations is this 'borrowing' goes on longer than expected and the project that these workers were taken from is now having it's own scheduling crisis since the workers weren't available as planned. Which leads to 'borrowing' from another project. This can turn into a vicious cycle as a management continues to avoid hiring more workers.

4. Lack of local skilled talent
Film and much of entertainment are relatively short term projects and the people who work on them are freelancers (even if they don't quite realize it). Left on it's own a film ecosystem (as other specialized niche industries) reaches a level of self sustainable equilibrium where many freelances can enjoy relative stable work. It will fluctuate and the workers go from project to project, company to company, but with enough projects and companies it works well. With the introduction of film subsidies from governments around the world, the work is now spread out such that it's difficult to have stable ecosystems. The politics that drive changes to subsidies means the work can quickly ebb and flow to or from another area around the world. Areas that take large sums from their taxpayers and give that to the studios suddenly find that they don't have all the people actually needed so they have to import skilled and experienced people from other countries and areas.

When more work is required (changes, additions, falling behind schedule, etc) getting more skilled workers to balance the workload may be costly and time consuming. Relocating people from other areas, dealing with visas, etc for relatively short term work can be difficult for a company and those workers who would have to relocate for a short period.

The subsidies have also caused a loss of work in some areas, such as Los Angeles, that either don't offer any or offer less. In those cases skilled and experienced workers either leave the industry to find work in another field or they move to one of the subsidized areas. When additional workers are required in these areas that used to be abundant with skilled workers, they are now difficult to find or may require importing workers from elsewhere.

So while there isn't a lack of visual effects workers worldwide (Thousands graduate every year hoping to get into the industry while hundreds or thousands of skilled and experienced workers are unemployed because of subsidies labor shifting.) it's created a difficult situation at times to easily fill short term openings.

5. Time zones
On large visual effects projects it's now standard procedure to use at least a dozen or more companies spread throughout the world (once again influenced by subsidies). That means someone somewhere is likely working on the vfx ever hour of the day. Since there need to be frequent interactive communications with the director located elsewhere that means phone, Skype, Cinesync, etc. This results in either shifted work times or more likely people working longer hours to accommodate the call that comes in at 9pm or whenever. For the production vfx supervisor, vfx producer and team that may mean conference calls at anytime day or night with anyone else in the world. 24hours, on call.


Improving the overtime dilemma (most of these apply to both workers and companies)

1. Admit there is a real problem in the industry with too much overtime.
Acknowledging there is a problem is the first step to solve the problem.

I've been in a room of vfx producers and companies owners when someone discussed a major project that the director didn't lock edit on until the last moment, that required months of work to be done in a few weeks and crazy overtime. None of these people could see what was wrong with that if the workers were paid. The thought of people sacrificing part of their lives and health simply because of indecision seemed perfectly acceptable.

The truth is it's unacceptable as a standard default process.

It was also suggested the workers should have a right to say no to overtime. Once again many in the room found that to be unacceptable.


"-Be given a reasonable amount of notice when being asked to work overtime. If asked, to be able to turn down such requests without reprisals"

How well is that working for anyone I wonder?

2. Attitude
Workers - Get over the macho attitude that you and everyone need to work overtime. Or the martyr complex of feeling the project will collapse if you don't put in 16 hrs a day. Or the idea that management will see the number of hours being put in by you (possibly unpaid) and will reward you at a future date.

Stop the peer pressure on others who choose not to work crazy hours.

Start thinking of this as a real career lasting decades. Do you still want to be doing 80hr weeks 30 years from now?

Management- Stop using overtime as a lazy and default way to solve schedule problems. Stop treating the workers as numbers in a spreadsheet. 

Hire managers who know what they are doing, who don't alienate workers or create a poisoned work environment.

Both workers and companies need to stop treating overtime as the acceptable norm.

3. Target
The target for both workers and management should be to put in a regular work week and to avoid overtime. This will not only increase quality of life and satisfaction it will increase actual productivity and creativity. Hard to be creative when you're on an 18 hr day and it's only Wednesday.

4. Know the labor laws of your area
Workers should know their rights, labor laws and how they should be classified. All of this is usually easily located on the internet.

Managers should know labor laws but seldom do. Even HR departments are ignorant of some of the basics (such as collusion  to prevent employment of workers to keep rates down)

5. Join a guild
There are film guilds throughout the world. The majority of large film production in the US, Canada and other areas is done using union crews. These people are covered by guilds specifically because it provides them protection and standard working conditions.

As a single worker you will have difficulty requesting and obtaining correct overtime pay. By uniting with others you have a chance to correct any working conditions and rates.

But the sad fact is most in visual effects seem to be unwilling to unite even when faced with companies that fail to pay their workers. Change will only take place if the workers make the effort to make it happen. Don't expect it to happen on the whim of the companies or studios. It won't.

6. Better scheduling and bidding
There's no point in bidding X days of task Y if last year your average was 2 * X. Track the actual hours worked for all workers.  Apply that data to your bidding and scheduling process so you avoid surprises of your own making. Many companies either don't track the hours or only record paid hours. The latter ignores the actual man days required since it ignores anyone paid as a flat rate with no overtime. With incorrect data recorded it's impossible to accurately use it for bids and schedules.

7. Crewing up
Bring on the number of people to do the job without requiring massive overtime. Bring on additional people as required to avoid large stretches of overtime. Bring those people on with enough time so they receive into and training as need be. Don't wait until it's too late

Companies should have resumes and lists of people to bring on as needed before it becomes the 11th hour.

If you start the project with everyone working overtime you're doing it wrong. It's clear in that situation management knows they don't have enough people to do it correctly but decides to put the onus on the workers.

Content creators - While service work, such as visual effects, is affected by changes out of their control, animation and video game companies making their own content do not have any excuses.  They control the entire project from start to finish so should be able to both schedule and crew correctly as needed.

8. Expandability
Companies should have room to add more workstations for more people if required. If not then they should consider alternate locations nearby for additional expansion if need be. If there is a hard limit size then consider 2 or more shifts of workers instead of forcing everyone to work crazy hours or simply say no to additional work. 

9. Anticipation
While the client may be make some last minute decisions, companies frequently fail to anticipate and act on future needs now. While a show does require a bit of a ramp up curve most managers are overly optimistic about how much they will be able to make up toward the end. Bad habits of excessive overtime usage in the past continue this poor management approach. If you're 75% through your scheduled time and have only done 10% of the work, that's a problem.

If the client is getting anxious because the shots are not being delivered as planned, the quality of work is not where it should be or you're unable to create the look the director wants, then you need to solve those problems. Yet many companies wait until the client makes the decisions for them. The client may pull all or part of the work. The client may have to send key people in to make sure the work gets done in time. Or the client may demand massive overtime to catch up. None of these should come as a surprise and all of these would have been avoidable if the company had simply ramped up the correct number of people to do the project.

10. Communication and monitoring
It's important as a worker to know when overtime is truly required and requested.
Always get overtime approval before simply putting in overtime. 
Make sure you understand the schedule before you determine something has to be done immediately.

And it's important for management to convey when it is required and to monitor overtime hours.

I was told on one project a few crew members were working overtime. Some where simply getting approval from the vfx producer to make more money. Some were trying to work overtime to finish shots that did not need to be done that night. If the director won't be reviewing the shot until later in the week or there are other things going on, the overtime may be a complete waste of the workers time (and the companies money) I asked to be put in charge of overtime approval and the problem disappeared.

11. Better contracts
Workers need better contracts where they are covered by labor laws and are paid correctly for overtime. They need contracts to have the option to say no to overtime.They need to anticipate the amount of overtime if that is to be built into the pay rate. And they should ask for clarification of expected overtime from the start.

Companies need better contracts so when a client adds 200 shots or changes 200 shots at the last minute there is a premium charged that will allow bringing in the additional workers required to complete the work in time or at least to be able to properly pay workers for overtime. Companies also need protection such that they can hire additional people as the work escalates without risk of client pulling work randomly.

12. Saying No
Workers who don't want to work overtime should simply say no. At the very least put a cap on the number of hours you're willing to work. Don't feel obligated especially if you're not being paid to work overtime. All the more if the company wasn't forthright about the amount of overtime when you were hired.

Companies who are ill equipped or who are unable to handle additional workload should be honest and say no to the client. Additional work can be like catnip but poorly done work delivered under duress, making a client unhappy and creating a burned out crew is not the way to succeed. 

13. Home is not the answer
Some people think if they could just work from home all of these problems would disappear. They could get out of bed at 10am, knock out a few green screen shots and finish with a martini by 4pm. 

As many who have worked from home have found it doesn't play out that way.
The elements that were supposed to have been upload last night weren't.
They finally get uploaded at 11am.
And of course there are problems with the elements. Much, much more work is required than expected.
And because of the promise of delivering the shots right away the worker continues to work away on them.
And the need for perfection and possibly the work ethic drives the number of hours further.
At 8pm comes a call or an email that there is a change or an issue.
More hours are put in.

With the lack of separation that a separate workplace creates along with co-workers leaving, the home working may find their hours spilling even longer. They look up to find it's now past midnight.

In some cases they've been asked to bid on the work. Now the broken fixed bid model is off loaded from the company onto the worker who is now taking on the risk.

And the time required to email, make calls to clarify, look for more work, write up invoices and all the other freelance independent contractor work that needs to be done is non-billable. Not to mention the expenses of the workstation, software, additional tax prep, etc.

And they will be unlikely to bill for overtime and are not covered by any labor laws.

And while some may find this all works well for them it's not an industry wide solution.


Summary
The amount of overtime in visual effects is a real problem. People not getting paid properly for working overtime is a real problem.

Workers need to understand it's in their hands to make the change. Workers need to know they actually have the power to make changes if they choose to do so on a united front. Don't expect it to come about on it's own.

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Global worker overtime rules

FLA - Fair Labor Association

FLA Code of Conduct

FLA Complete code and benchmarks

Frame of reference:

FLA is in use by HP and Apple in China and other locations.

Here's their HOURS OF WORK section:
"Employers shall not require workers to work more than the regular and overtime hours allowed by the law of the country where the workers are employed. The regular work week shall not exceed 48 hours. Employers shall allow workers at least 24 consecutive hours of rest in every seven-day period. All overtime work shall be consensual. Employers shall not request overtime on a regular basis and shall compensate all overtime work at a premium rate. Other than in exceptional circumstances, the sum of regular and overtime hours in a week shall not exceed 60 hours."

"Calculation Basis for Overtime Payments
  1. Employers shall compensate workers for all hours worked. 
  1. C.7.1  The factory shall comply with all applicable laws, regulations and procedures governing the payment of premium rates for work on holidays, rest days, and 
    overtime. 
  2. C.7.2  Employees shall be compensated for overtime hours at such premium rate as is 
    legally required in the producing country. 
C.7.2.1 In those countries where there is no legally established overtime
premium, employees shall be compensated for overtime hours at the prevailing industry premium rate or at the internationally recognized overtime rate, whichever is higher.
C.7.3 Employers shall not set production targets, piecework, or any other incentive or production system at such a level that the payment for overtime work performed is less than the premium pay required by law or the FLA Workplace Code.
  1. C.8  Overtime Wage Awareness 
    Workers shall be informed, orally and in writing, in language(s) spoken by workers about overtime wage rates prior to undertaking overtime."
"Forced Overtime
The imposition of overtime where workers are unable to leave the work premises constitutes forced labor. "

[ Think of it- 60 hrs maximum in most of the world as defined by some of the largest companies.]


EICC - Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition

EICC Code of Conduct

"Working Hours
  1. Studies of business practices clearly link worker strain to reduced productivity, increased turnover and increased injury and illness. Workweeks are not to exceed the maximum set by local law. Further, a workweek should not be more than 60 hours per week, including overtime, except in emergency or unusual situations. Workers shall be allowed at least one day off per seven-day week. 
  2. 4)  Wages and Benefits 
    Compensation paid to workers shall comply with all applicable wage laws, including those relating to minimum wages, overtime hours and legally mandated benefits. In compliance with local laws, workers shall be compensated for overtime at pay rates greater than regular hourly rates. Deductions from wages as a disciplinary measure shall not be permitted. The basis on which workers are being paid is to be provided in a timely manner via pay stub or similar documentation. "
Overtime around the world
"India
Double-time is to be paid to any employee working more than 9 hours in a day or 48 hours in a week.

China
Employees earn time-and-a-half for any hours worked beyond 8 in a day or 44 in a week. If an employee has to work overtime on a day off, they earn double their regular wage. If the day off is a public holiday, they earn triple their regular wage, in addition to their holiday pay."

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Additional references

VFX Guilds around the world

Guilds/Unions

Health Issues
Study: “working more than 11 hours a day increased the risk of heart disease by 67 percent” http://bit.ly/fxl36H






Classification and Overtime pay Issues

Got Overtime?


VFX Artists are not High Tech Employees 


Hourly rate video

Legal issues for companies not paying workers

Kronos report on Overtime violations

"Paul DeCamp, national chair, wage and hour practice, Jackson Lewis LLP, and former Administrator of the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division
"Seeing that significant numbers of employees around the world believe their employers have violated overtime laws should serve as a wake-up call to employers everywhere. If your employees perceive that you are out of compliance, you are at risk for a wage-and-hour lawsuit which can be incredibly costly even if you are ultimately found to be in compliance. Investment in wage and hour compliance should be seen as part of risk management for any smart business."

Unpaid Overtime: Wage And Hour Lawsuits Have Skyrocketed In The Last Decade

More Workers Filing Lawsuits To Claim Unpaid Overtime

White Collar Wage Theft Is Trending: Companies Using Jail And Illegal Arrangements To Prevent Employees From Leaving

Scotiabank Unpaid Overtime Class-Action Lawsuit Reaches Settlement

An Epidemic of Wage Theft Is Costing Workers Hundreds of Millions of Dollars a Year

Wage theft: How employers steal millions from American workers every week


Lawsuit: Silicon Valley Under Scrutiny for $9 Billion in Wage Theft Conspiracy


Apple, Google give high tech workers an extra $90 million in “no-poach” suit

The Techtopus: How Silicon Valley’s most celebrated CEOs conspired to drive down 100,000 tech engineers’ wages

Pixar’s Ed Catmull Emerges As Central Figure In The Wage-Fixing Scandal

DreamWorks Linked To ILM/Pixar Collusion Cartel

Monday, August 18, 2014

Visual Effects Company Closure Exit Form

Since this is happening more frequently I thought it best to create a form for visual effects workers and reporters.

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Visual Effects Company Closure Exit Form VFX-SOL

Check all that apply.


It was announced on ____________  that  ______________________________ , a visual effects company, located in _________________________, has closed it's doors due to:

__ Subsidies
__ Bad business practices (note: requires Subsidies to be checked as well)
__ Completion of project

The vfx workers had:
__ Finished the project
__ Done above and beyond their jobs
__ Sacrificed their personal lives
__ Shown loyalty to the company
__ Solved immense technical problems
__ Gotten the company out of a jam
__ Put in unpaid hours
__ Put in unpaid OverTime
__ Put in a lot of OverTime

At the end of the project they had expected:
__ Payment
__ Pat on the back
__ Thank you
__ Wrap Party

Instead they were given:
__ Pink slips

but did not get:
__ Paid

During the project they received:
__ Missed payrolls
__ Broken promises
__ No communication with management

The owners repeatedly said:
__ You will be paid soon
__ There was a glitch in accounting
__ The bank messed up
__ The client will be wiring money soon
__ Once we complete this next sequence
__ Once we complete this next milestone
__ Don't worry, you'll be taken care of

During this time workers did not want to:
__ Do anything
__ Say anything
__ Unite together

because:
__ Fear of blacklisting
__ Didn't want to rock the boat
__ Fear of losing work (even if it wasn't paid work)
__ Prided themselves on being individuals
__ They had faith in the managers/owners
__ They had faith in the company

So when the company closed the workers had not been paid in:
____ Years
____ Months
____ Weeks

because:
__ They loved vfx
__ They had faith in the managers/owners
__ They had faith in the company
__ They had thought their sacrifices would be rewarded
__ Didn't want to rock the boat
__ Feared being blacklisted

In total ____ workers are owed over _____________ and some as much as ____________

In addition the company owed them:
__ Vacation
__ Health Care
__ Pension
__ Retirement plan
__ Expenses

They expect to see ___ % of their actual money owed in:
__ Weeks
__ Months
__ Years
__ (Default) When hell freezes over

To do so they expect to:
__ Complain to each other
__ Put up a Facebook Page
__ Write a bad review
__ Contact legal help
__ Complain publicly

They do not expect to:
__ Complain publicly
__ Put up a Facebook Page
__ Write a bad review, even anonymously
__ Contact legal help

because:
__ Fear of blacklisting
__ Don't want to rock the boat
__ Love of vfx

In the future the workers will:
__ Do the same thing

because:
__ This was a unique event.
__ Things will improve without any effort on their part.

The workers learned:
__ This is just the way it is
__ They should change careers

Things they still won't do:
__ Sign a union rep card anonymously
__ Support Adapt
__ Do something

because:
__ Fear of blacklisting
__ Don't want to rock the boat
__ Love of vfx

Meanwhile others think:
__ Everything is fine
__ That will never happen to them
__ Subsidies aren't so bad
__ Moving frequently isn't so bad. Their spouse and children love it.
__ If they ignore the issues, the issues will go away.
__ If they're very quiet they won't lose their job or have to move
__ They'll wait for someone else to implement a perfect global solution
__ More overtime for no pay. Where do I sign up?
__ They'd rather be on a sinking ship that to help try to fix it
__ Silence is golden.
__ Watch out, you could be blacklisted
__ Watch out, don't rock the boat
__ It's fun to live in fear of the company you work for.
__ They love VFX. They might as well because it's becoming less of a profession all the time.